Monticello, where Annette Gordon-Reed exposed its lies once and for all...Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Gentle cabrones:

SO…have you checked in on my “Grítale a Guti”sessions yet?

Every Tuesday night at 10:15 PST, I go on Instagram Live to answer people’s questions about WHATEVER.

People seem to like it, and there’s even a drinking game around Grítale a Guti now: any time I pull out a book from off screen, SHOT SHOT SHOT.

I love doing the free-for-all, because I get to interact with fans, and I also get to work out my speaking skills.

Coronavirus canceled all my speaking gigs for the year. Only now am I getting some back — via Zoom, of course.

But I can’t go back to those a babbling mess.

I gotta go back my rambling best.

And so I GAG.

What I especially love is how random the questions can be. Last week, I answered queries on whether I had seen Hamilton (I had), the first place I want to visit once the virus is gone (New Mexico), or would I ever give Portland, Oregon another chance (no).

There was one question, though, that I answered incorrectly — in a way.

Someone asked who was the most famous person I had ever had lunch with.

I responded with Anthony Bourdain, but that it didn’t really count because it was at night, and for an appearance on his show.

So I instead said Louie Perez of Los Lobos, who’s actually a friend of mine, and a hell of a vegetarian food (he’s a fan of the falafels at Kareem’s in Anacrime), so that really didn’t count.

I had no answer — until now.

What was the most star-filled lunch I ever had?

It was the dinner I didn’t have with Sean Wilentz, Annette Gordon-Reed, and Jill Lepore.

Only the REAL history nerds know who those people are.

But everyone can appreciate what I did when I had the chance to know heroes of mine better:

I didn’t. Because I was scurred.


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The lineup during a February 2018 panel at UCI Irvine.

Sean Wilentz: Legendary historian of American politics and Bob Dylan.

Jill Lepore: Staff writer at the New Yorker, legendary historian of American politics and culture.

Annette Gordon-Reed: Legendary historian of race in the United States. Pulitzer Prize AND Macarthur genius winner. The scholar who basically proved once and for all that Thomas Jefferson was the father of the children of Sally Hemings.

And me.


They were all literary heroes of mine.

What the hell was I doing there?

It wasn’t a case of imposter syndrome, the phenomenon that folks sometimes face when they think they don’t have what it takes to succeed.

I knew I was going to do great, because I was there to talk about one thing alongside them at the invitation of UCI history professor (and legend in his own write) Jon Wiener.

Orange County history. No one beats me in that.

But I could’ve done that at any other time — yet here I was.

Feb. 2018 was a weird time in my life. I was four months removed from losing my dream job, and a month removed from losing another one. I hadn’t spoken in public in four months, and my mami’s just-diagnosed cancer made everything seem like a fog.

But I showed up, because I belonged among those luminaries.

But I sure didn’t act like it.

I don’t remember much about the panel, except I know I made Wilentz, Lepore, and Gordon-Reed laugh — and the latter rightfully smacked me down when I made out John Adams to be more of an anti-racist than he actually was.

But then came dinner.

We were led to a room somewhere in UCI, with a mix of professors, grad students, and undergrads.

Wilentz, Lepore, and Gordon-Reed sat in one table with other admirers.

I hung out with the undergrads.

I was simply too starstruck to approach them.

My mistake.

I will never again have the opportunity to see them all in one place.

I probably will never see any of them in person again.

The opportunities I could’ve tried for!

This wasn’t going to be hero worship, because I don’t do that. Nah, this should’ve been what I always tell young reporters:

When you meet someone who can advance career, hit them up.

I could’ve picked Wilentz’s brain about how to land a lecture at Princeton.

I could’ve pitched Lepore some ideas for the New Yorker, where I had just scored a freelance opportunity.

I should’ve taken my copy of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family for Gordon-Reed to sign, and ask if she had a contact at the New York Review of Books, where she contributes.

I missed out on all of that.

So if you’re ever in a scenario like the one I described above?

Act like you belong.

Because you do.


This is the column where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…

How did Sheriff Alex Villanueva get his job? I know he was elected, but I seem to remember something about him getting an endorsement from some local Democrats. A very liberal friend of mine voted for him on the recommendation of her very liberal friend. I would like to read your take on it and where it stands now.

Yeah, that one hasn’t exactly worked out, right? More than a few progressives sided with Villanueva in LA County’s 2018 sheriff’s election over the incumbent, Jim McDonnell, because the latter was perceived as corrupt and Villanueva was a fresh face. But, as the cliché goes, sometimes better the devil you know than the one you don’t, you know?

I warned the public about what might happen with Villanueva and an uninformed, vengeful electorate in my former LA Times columna, when I wrote in 2018, “But in modern-day America, sheriffs too often turn into tin-pot dictators with a brass badge and a pocketful of lead.”

And here we are.

Got a question for Guti? Email me here.


Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:

IMAGE OF THE WEEK: The flour tortillas from El Cholo, the third-oldest Mexican restaurant in the United States and one of the four finalists in my KCRW’s #TortillaTournament, which has its grand Zoom finale THIS SUNDAY at 4 p.m. PST. RSVP here!

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “You ever get booed by ten thousand people? It’s exciting.”

–Art Aragon, boxing’s original Golden Boy.

LISTENING:Chulas Fronteras,” Los Traviesos de Maz. The YouTube link says the song is “Corrido de Donal Trump,” but it’s really a cover of the border-crossing comedy track by the legendary El Piporro, by a group from Sinaloa. The singer NAILS “Chulas Fronteras,” both the hilarity and satire, AND does the best drumming performance since Gene Krupa! Audio isn’t the best, but listen and look and become MESMERIZED…

READING: Where I Go: Growing up Under the Rim”: Basketball, Long Beach Poly, Vietnamese refugee culture, pickup games, and coaching the youngsters — a beautiful essay by Ky-Phong Tran, who I was smart enough to enjoy lunch with 13 years ago at Banh Cuon Tay Ho in Little Saigon. Gotta do it again one of these days…

SHOUTOUT TO: Argelis, who kindly donated 50 tacos to sponsor a full month of MailChango! He didn’t specify a plug, so I’m going to plug his consulting service, Silegra — BOOM.

Gustavo Community Office Hours!

I’m rebooting my stint as scholar-in-residence at Occidental College’s Institute for the Study of Los Angeles! Tuesday through Thursday, from 6 p.m.-7 p.m., people can book half an hour with me and we can Zoom (over a secure line, of course) one-on-one about WHATEVER. Interested? Email me to book your time NOW!

Gustavo Events

Sunday, Oct. 18, 4 p.m.: The grand finale for my KCRW #TortillaTournament will happen on Zoom. Watch tortilla demos, and me and my fellow judges crown the winner with the Golden Tortilla. Event is FREE for KCRW members, and just a $1 donation for non-members. RSVP here!

Weds., Oct. 21, 6 p.m.: I’ll be part of the LA Times Festival of Books in conversation with former California Governor Jerry Brown and his biographer, Jim Newton. JERRY BROWN!!! Event is FREE, so RSVP here.

Gustavo in the News

Gustavo Arellano Reveals His Favorite Taco in L.A. and Speaks on the Times’ Racial Reckoning: ‘Keep Us Accountable’”: In which L.A. Taco editor Javier Cabral sits down with me to talk #TortillaTournament, the LA Times, and more!

Corn versus flour: awarding the Golden Tortilla”: My fellow #TortillaTournament judge Evan Kleiman talks with me about our finale THIS SUNDAY. RSVP here, already!

Newsletter: Essential California: The hottest year on Earth?”: My LA Times colleague Julia Wick shouts out my column on my abuelita…

Coronavirus Today: An app to gauge your risks”: …and so does my LA Times colleague, Kelcie Pegher.

Ghosts of October: A New Book Explains Why Dodger Stadium Should Not Exist and The Powerful Reasons It Does”: L.A. Taco shouts out a recent plática I had with the author of a great book about the building of Dodgers Stadium.

Best Musart Songs: An Introduction To Regional Mexican Music”: This is an interesting overview of two of Mexico’s most legendary Mexican regional music labels, Musart and Peerless, that shouts out my own writings on it, but weirdly thinks I’m a charrería fan…

L.A. Times Festival of Books kicks off Sunday with compelling discussions — and the Trojan Marching Band”: USC Today shouts out the LA Times Festival of Books, where I’ll be in conversation with former California governor Jerry Brown and his biographer, Jim Newton.

The Best Online And IRL Events Happening This Weekend: Oct. 16 – 18”: LAist shouts out my #TortillaTournament…

Tortillas at Anchos in Riverside show flour power in LA contest”: …and so does Southern California’s most underrated columnist, David Allen, in his writeup about a great tortilla spot in Riverside…

The Tortilla to Beat in 2020”: …as does California Eating!

Mezcal es amig@s”: Gilbert Marquez from Ilegal Mezcal asks me a bunch of questions and inspires me to go off on Maná AND QAnon!

The Late Night Happy Hour with the Kamenetzky Brothers”: In which the longtime Lakers-covering hermanos talk to me about #TortillaTournament, OC politics and why I’m like an 87-year-old Italian man.

Gustavo Stories

OC House Dems hope the 2018 ‘blue wave’ will sustain in 2020” My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” talks about OC’s competitive congressional races.

Grítale a Guti, Ep. 16”: My latest Tuesday-night free-for-all.

Ask a Tortilla Tournament Judge: Are there Jewish/Muslim-friendly tortillas?”: My latest KCRW #TortillaTournament columna tackles two questions a week until there are no more questions to be answered. KEY QUOTE: “The Florentine Codex, the best chronicle of Aztec customs and culture before the Conquest, described tortillas made of amaranth seeds and ground squash seeds and of green corn and of prickly pears.”

Tortilla Tournament, Week 4: Behold Your Fuerte Four Finalists!”: My latest KCRW story reveals the four finalests for my #TortillaTournament. KEY QUOTE: “This year’s #TortillaTournament saw stunning upsets but also the continued dominance of previous finalists. So, as the kids say, here we go…”

Column: Latino Republicans face a tough task: turning blue Orange County red again”: My latest LA Times columna talks to the executive director of the Republican Party of Orange County — a Chicano from Monterey Park. KEY QUOTE: “It’s tortured justifications like these in the face of anti-Latino facts that make Latino Republicans a favorite piñata every election cycle.”

Column: How do you show up en masse to celebrate Grandma’s birthday without killing her with COVID-19?”: My latest LA Times columna is about how my family celebrated a birthday for my 98-year-old Grandma! KEY QUOTE: “So after a bunch of texts and money transfers via Venmo, a bunch of cousins decided on a plan: A socially distant fiesta that would still make the Arellanos proud.”

You made it this far down? Gracias! Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram while you’re down here. Don’t forget to forward this newsletter to your compadres y comadres! And, if you feel generous: Buy me a Paypal taco here. Venmo: @gustavo-arellano-oc